Gov. Northam, sign the Virginia Values Act
Businesses are counting on governor to sign LGBTQ rights legislation, writes president of Witeck Communications.
As a business leader, I’ve seen firsthand how treating people with respect, dignity and fairness is a key to success. And as a lifelong Virginian, I know that achieving equality for all in the commonwealth has had a troubled history.
That’s why I was personally moved to know our lawmakers passed the Virginia Values Act. The law will modernize Virginia’s existing human rights laws and provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, credit, housing, and public spaces. It will ensure that LGBTQ people have the freedom to go about our daily lives without fear of discrimination.
The bill is now on Governor Northam’s desk. He must sign it without change and without hesitation.
It’s long past time we make it clear that Virginia welcomes all people to live, work and raise families. The economic cost of discrimination against LGBTQ people negatively impacts Virginia’s economy. By simply passing nondiscrimination protections, Virginia will welcome the economic boost, which means more resources for services that benefit all of us. But most importantly, these protections will ensure that our LGBTQ residents, neighbors, friends and visitors feel fully able to participate in all our communities have to offer.
Virginia is home to an estimated 257,000 LGBTQ adults and 50,000 LGBTQ youth. Under current Virginia law, LGBTQ people are not explicitly protected from discrimination. While many companies have strong workplace policies to protect LGBTQ employees, there is no state or federal law that protects them from being fired because of who they are or who they love.
By sheer timing, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering three bedrock cases on LGBTQ employment discrimination. I hope the justices will do the right thing and affirm that all people should be able to work hard and support themselves and their families without fear of harassment or discrimination on the job. We can agree that a robust business climate and job growth are good for everyone. People are at the core of any successful business, and fairness draws good people. The current patchwork of protections here in Virginia and across the nation are unfair and unworkable for employer and employee alike.
The competition for talent goes hand in hand with appealing communities and welcoming cultures. Very few openly LGBTQ executives and managers will choose to work in states and cities that insist on denying equal legal protections and stability. Outside the doors of our state capitol, the businesses of Virginia compete aggressively for shareholder value, for profits, customers, ideas, resources, and more and more, for the best human talent. We know that discrimination extracts a price too high for any global competitor and why leading companies expect nothing less from their public leaders too.
As a Virginian, equity and fairness are in my blood. Every year, I help create jobs and economic value as an employer, and I absolutely believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to work, earn a living, own or rent a home, access credit and contribute to our community. We must create a climate that is stable and safe for all workers and their families as they move through their daily lives.
All of us prefer to live and work in communities where we are treated fairly and where enlightened laws give employers like me the advantage in recruitment and retention. I know firsthand that Virginia’s tourism dollars depend on opening our doors and our destinations to all, without fear of bias, hurt or rejection.
I am grateful for the vibrant economy and innovation that Virginia has to offer, and I am even more grateful to my fellow business leaders and the bipartisan lawmakers who have passed the Virginia Values Act. I trust our governor to quickly sign this law that respects our shared Virginia values honoring hard work, individual dignity, and equal opportunity.
Bob Witeck is a graduate of the University of Virginia and president of Witeck Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm that consults with Fortune 500 corporations and nonprofits on LGBTQ public affairs and communications issues.